- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

An elderly couple died in a high-rise apartment fire in Silver Spring that started yesterday morning when someone carelessly discarded a lit cigarette, Montgomery County fire officials said.

Authorities also found that the fire alarm at the Blair East apartments in the 1200 block of East-West Highway did not operate correctly and never sounded.

“Because the alarm didn’t work, we really had to expend a lot of energy at the time to help residents get out of the building,” said Pete Piringer, spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.

More than 100 firefighters were dispatched to the three-alarm fire, which began at about 5:20 a.m.

“The fire was put out fairly quickly in 10 to 15 minutes and was basically confined to the apartment of origin,” Mr. Piringer said.

The fire started in the living room of John Charles Seidel, 75, and his wife, Lanita Seidel, 91, on the 11th floor of the 16-story building. Both died in the fire.

“We do know that [Mr. Seidel] knocked on several doors to notify neighbors on the 11th floor … notifying folks that there was a fire, and returned to the apartment, where he was found in the dining-room area not far from the door, as was his wife,” Mr. Piringer said.

The spokesman said Mr. Seidel apparently tried to fight the fire himself and help his wife, “who had mobility issues.”

The fire caused $335,000 in damage, mostly to the Seidels’ apartment, he said.

Authorities found several other fire-code violations in the apartment building and issued a correction order.

The building is owned by Tower Cos. of North Bethesda.

A Tower Cos. staffer would not discuss the alarm.

“The management company is not prepared to make a statement at this time. [The fire] is still under investigation,” the staffer said.

In the District, firefighters responded to a fire yesterday morning in the 1300 block of Eastern Avenue NE. Investigators with the regional arson task force determined it was not the work of the area’s serial arsonist, authorities said.

The city fire department responded at 4:15 a.m. to a fire inside a three-story brick apartment building. But the fire was out when firefighters arrived, said Alan Etter, spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. He said the general fire alarm in the building did not go off, but that individual smoke alarms in apartments did.

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